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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Theraputty, Fidgets, and other Tactile Sensory Solutions

This is the final post in the series on sensory solutions. We have already covered Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Oral. Now I will discuss solutions for the phenomenon of constantly touching everything.

In Dovi's case, his tactile sensory issue is really a combination of three things. A lot of it is in fact proprioceptive in nature - he needs to squeeze, smear, pulverize, and throw things. That's not exactly the same thing as Chaim's tactile sensory need which is just to touch stuff for no good reason. He once had his hands scotch-taped together as a consequence for destroying his Chumash (Bible) systematically during school session. A letter and a phone call to his Rebbe (teacher) helped greatly, and the next time he started fiddling around with his book again, his Rebbe gave him a piece of silver foil to fiddle with instead. Thankfully Chaim has mostly outgrown his fidgeting days; but my point is that Dovi's touching of stuff is different. His need to squeeze and smear is more of a proprioceptive need and not so much a tactile need. It's also a form of stimming; when I give him shaving cream or farina or rice he tends to throw it and smear it everywhere, which is simply part of his stimming repertoire as a person with autism.

It took me a very, very long time to come up with solutions to Dovi's smearing/squeezing/throwing need. My kitchen was always in shambles; every bag of rice, box of farina or oatmeal, square of butter, yogurt, peanut butter and even eggs were fair game for  being pulverized, thrown or smeared everywhere. When he was done with the kitchen he headed for the bathroom to smear toothpaste and anything else in a tube on the walls. I came up with a few solutions, some homemade, some purchased, some affordable and some not...

For his need to squeeze and smear, I alternated between Play Doh and Theraputty. Play Doh is economical, non toxic (hopefully), and the trouble with theraputty is that.... it sticks to EVERYTHING. We learned by unfortunate mistake. I bought Theraputty when my walls had started becoming very dirty from all the Playdoh smeared on it, knowing that Theraputty comes clean off walls - and having watched Dovi make a beeline for the Theraputty in the OT room - only to discover that it simply does not come out of fabric of any kind. Many a pair of pants and even beautiful Shabbos sweaters have had to be sacrificed at the altar of Theraputty. Theraputty should be used with supervision.... Dovi had a habit of stretching it into thin, thin strings and then throwing it somewhere random, where it inevitably landed on a chair, someone's discarded laundry, or something else where it couldn't be cleaned.


About a year ago one of my Facebook friends who has a special needs child herself had a novel suggestion to the ongoing plague of the farflung powders and rice granules everywhere: a sensory box. While it is not Dovi-proof - he tends to jump out of the box with the powders in his hands and fling it as far as he can - it does help contain a lot of the mess inside its own space instead of all over the entire house. It became Dovi's haven. Sometimes he even climbs in when there is nothing inside; I'll line it with a pillow and give him a book and a toy. In the summer I converted it to a small wading pool. In everyday use, I will give him a box of farina or rice and let him go to town with it; he actually eats it, although I'm careful that he shouldnt eat too much of it so he shouldn't get stomachaches; and it's a great alternative to having a real sandbox in my house. I purchased a really large Rubbermaid box, big enough to contain Dovi so that he cant climb in and out easily.

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In the non-edible realm: Over the years we keep discovering new items that excite Dovi tremendously and help fill the tactile craving. He loves pillows, crinkly paper, deflated mylar balloons, zippered mesh laundry bags for small items, shopping bags, aluminum foil, squeeze balls, even the plastic that Fruit Leather is stuck onto.

The one no-fail sensory haven for Dovi - besides for a ball pit, which we tried to set up in our house briefly and have decided it's not for us - is the bath. The way he jumps up and down, splashes, and even swims in the bath, is unbelievable. He also loves when we blow bubbles and he catches them on his skin, or sometimes even with his face. Summertime means the swimming pool as well, and this summer he taught himself to swim. Of course, he wear a life jacket in the pool, as he can't be trusted - he wrests himself out of my grasp and runs to the deep water and jumps in!! - and then proceeds to swim, face in the water, breathing and blowing bubbles like a pro. Oy, does he love the pool. Pity the summer is so short; I have searched and searched for a winter pool for him to no avail.

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You'll notice that a running thread in all of these sensory posts is safety. With Dovi, safety is paramount, and it's crucial to be a step ahead of him at all times. It's almost impossible though. He is so quick; you turn around for a split second and he has spilled something, gotten into something, or run away somewhere. It took months and years of research and trial and error to figure out how to lock up the fridge, cabinetry and how to keep him in close proximity at all times. I will discuss the various safety precautions we had to take over the years and what worked and what didn't.... at some point in the future. For now, I'm glad to close this series on Sensory Solutions and move back into the narrative portion of this blog. Trust me, there are still so many stories to tell - and they are fascinating, moving, and funny at times. Stay tuned.

ETA: Over the years, Dovi's sensory needs kept changing, and he got obsessed with different tactile things such as strings, magformers, and to this day, he still lives for bubbles. I will write a future post with updates.


  1. On the topic of safety, wondering if you have a good idea for the toilet. My issue is that I want to keep it safe from my my 9 month old cruising baby who has a fascination with the toilet, but I also want my toilet trained preschoolers to be able to use the toilet without my assistance. Basically i need something that is too hard for a baby but not too hard for a typically developing 3 year old. Thought maybe you have something that is safe from Dovi but is accessible for Chaim that would work for me too?

    1. The only thing I can think of is to put a latch on the outside of the door that your older kids can reach but the baby can't. I never put a lock on the actual toilet as Dovi doesnt really splash at this age anymore in it.

    2. Sima, this is what I used when I had a baby and an older trained kid

      It was very easy to teach the trained kid how to use it. Definitely made him feel BIG. ;) Good Luck


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